Last April, in a converted Portakabin beneath the desiccated terraces of Albion Rovers FC, the stalwarts of the Coatbridge Men’s Shed Association admitted me into their company.

I’d heard of the Men’s Shed Association, but knew little about it. If I’m being honest, I’d instinctively imagined it to be a place where older men harbouring slightly off-colour cultural views might gather to play darts. (A bit like me, perhaps).

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Jim, one of the founding members, told me they were 12 members, but that they’d hoped to attract more as the social effects of the pandemic began to ease off. He was grateful to Albion Rovers for refusing to charge them rent, even though this famous old football club was itself fighting for a future.

“The majority of our members have varying degrees of mental health challenges,” he said. “These are mainly rooted in loneliness and social isolation. This space gives them a chance to have tea and chat and make new friends.”

Almost all of these men had a skill-set which they used to help the daily maintenance of the football club with whom they shared their home.

You quickly formed the impression they were delighted at being asked to contribute again. And long past the point where others had deemed their skills to be surplus to society’s requirements. Jim said: “Even if it makes a difference to just one or two people gradually over time then it will have been worthwhile.”

The Herald: What do the new SNP leaders think of the Men Shed movement?What do the new SNP leaders think of the Men Shed movement? (Image: free)

I’d been slightly edgy about intruding into their discussions. Some of these men might only have ventured to this place after a prolonged period of uncertainty around discussing their challenges with others. They might have been entitled to bristle at the presence of a clumsy journalist who often doesn’t know when to shut the f**k up.

They were all different class though, and began to offer their opinions on the politics of the day: the bottle return scheme; the forthcoming LEZ restrictions in Glasgow city centre. “Maybe we could just switch number-plates when we’re going in and out the city,” said one man. He knew “somebody” because, well … in the west of Scotland we all know somebody in the thriving black economy of automotive maintenance and certification.

The Scottish Government’s decision to withdraw what little funding the men’s Shed Association received threatens the survival of this group and around 200 others like it across Scotland’s (mainly) working-class communities. It was hardly surprising, though. The SNP in the Sturgeon/Yousaf era was defined by loathing men like these and the communities in which they lived.

They don’t use pronouns; their opinions might be expressed in unrefined language; they might still source their comestibles from Iceland and they probably don’t agree with the Scottish Government’s Minimum Unit Pricing policy. Nor will they have signed up to a Stonewall Diversity scheme; the main means of accessing public cash in the Sturgeon/Yousaf era.

Barely a week after becoming our new First Minister, John Swinney looks as though – like his predecessor – he too is lacking a spine. Mr Swinney opened Scotland’s first Men’s Shed – at Westhill in Aberdeenshire – when he was Deputy First Minister. Now, he has a chance to show that he is not beholden to the Rule of Sturgeon by finding the relatively modest amount of cash required to save the Men’s Shed Association in Scotland.

In Coatbridge last year, the men I spoke with were withering in their criticism of the SNP for attempting to withdraw all funding in April, 2022. Thankfully, a package existing at the paltry end of modest – £75,000 – was agreed when around 40 MSPs beseeched the Government to think again.

By comparison, the Scottish Government diverts millions of pounds every year into a dizzying assortment of LGBTQ organisations all more or less doing the same thing and with little in the way of independently-measurable achievements.

Despite the last-minute reprieve, some of the men I spoke with last year in Coatbridge expressed pessimism about the Men’s Shed Association’s long-term future. “When the Government initially withdrew funding it was because they had misjudged us. We were an easy hit. It was based on ignorance and lazy assumptions about what we were really all about. They probably thought this was just a glorified social and drinking den.”


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In justifying their chaotic and sinister Hate Crime Bill, senior government figures and a predictable cast of artisan journalists sought to portray Scotland as a hate-filled social wilderness. Let’s be honest here: they were talking about men like this who don’t have the password to the platinum lounges where the cultural Sanhedrin gathers to scold and judge. A younger man in the group told me he’d been in hospital and hadn’t worked for a while. “I came down here though, and got involved in what they were doing. It gave me the chance to participate in other voluntary activities. This is definitely the place for me.”

Throughout my time with them their conversation was marked by the raw, unsparing wit found in this type of male, west of Scotland environment. There’s no room for sentimentality or self-obsession. Each apparent jibe and insult is actually code for “you matter”.

They recalled a time in their lives, perhaps when their workplaces thrummed with such edgy exchanges. A time when they felt valued in places where they belonged. It’s become fashionable lately to mock a certain section of working-class men for not sharing enough about their troubles and refusing to open up about their mental health. Many of these men though, were reared in communities still bearing the emotional and physical scars stemming from loss and severe injury caused by two world wars.

The next generation endured the full force of Margaret Thatcher’s punitive “no society” measures which laid waste to industrial communities all over the UK. Working men bore the brunt of these social apocalypses. They chose not to discuss the emotional and mental traumas arising from them simply because this would have been considered a luxury. They had families who relied on them being strong, (or at least appearing to be). And besides, there was always someone worse off than you.

This is not to diminish the often unpaid work that women undertook in wartime and during the Miners’ Strike. It’s simply to point out that generations of working-class men were reared on models of adult male behaviour that prized silent fortitude and “getting on with it” in the face of adversity.

The Men’s Shed provides them with a space to talk and to feel valued once more. The SNP though, would rather ostracise them.